Program Notes: The Tallis Scholars
The Tallis Scholars
Thursday, May 5, 2022
The Tallis Scholars
Amy Haworth soprano
Charlotte Ashley soprano
Emily Atkinson soprano
Victoria Meteyard soprano
Caroline Trevor alto
Elisabeth Paul alto
Steven Harrold tenor
Simon Wall tenor
Tom Castle tenor
Tim Scott Whiteley bass
Rob Macdonald bass
Greg Skidmore bass
Peter Phillips director
ANTOINE BRUMEL (c1460–1512/13)
Missa: Et ecce terrae motus (The "Earthquake" Mass)
DAVID LANG (b. 1957)
BRUMEL: Missa Et ecce terrae motus (Kyrie)
LANG: sun-centered 1 (the truths we know)
BRUMEL: Missa Et ecce terrae motus (Gloria)
LANG: sun-centered 2 (we find it hard)
BRUMEL: Missa Et ecce terrae motus (Credo)
LANG: sun-centered 3 (hymn to the sun)
BRUMEL: Missa Et ecce terrae motus (Sanctus and Benedictus)
LANG: sun-centered 4 (the republic)
BRUMEL: Missa Et ecce terrae motus (Agnus Dei)
LANG: sun-centered 5 (and yet it moves)
Texts for Missa: Et ecce terrae motus and sun-centered can be viewed here.
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: Masks are no longer required for indoor performances but are strongly recommended.
French composer, possibly born in Brunelles, nr Chartres, c1460; possibly died Mantua, Italy 1512-13
Missa: Et ecce terrae motus (The "Earthquake" Mass)
It is hard to think of any other piece of music quite like the twelve-part "Earthquake" Mass by Antoine Brumel. Both in its employment of twelve voices for almost its entire length and in its musical effects, there is nothing comparable to it in the Renaissance period, even if some of those effects may remind the listener of the forty-part motet Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585). Brumel’s masterpiece did not inaugurate a fashion for massive compositions, but it did quickly establish a formidable reputation for itself and its composer, admired throughout central Europe in the 16th century as an experiment which could not easily be repeated. It is tribute enough that the only surviving source was copied in Munich under the direct supervision of the late Renaissance composer Orlandus Lassus (1532-94), who nonetheless never tried to rival its idiom in his own work.
A pupil of Josquin des Pres, Brumel is important to modern commentators because he was one of the few leading members of the Franco-Flemish school to be genuinely French. He was initially employed in the Cathedrals of Chartres, Laon and, in 1498, Notre Dame in Paris where he was responsible for the education of the choirboys. However, he seems to have had a restless temperament, which led to his dismissal on at least two occasions, and he soon began the peripatetic life of so many musicians of the Renaissance period. There is evidence that he was employed in Geneva, Chambery, and probably Rome. However, the high point of his career was the 15 years he spent as successor to Josquin and Obrecht at the court of Ferrara (between 1505 and 1520) in the retinue of Alfonso d’Este I.
Brumel's masterpiece is based on the first seven notes of the Easter plainsong antiphon at Lauds, Et ecce terrae motus [And lo, the Earth moved]. This quotation yields the seven notes D-D-B-D-E-D-D, which are worked in canon between the third bass and the first two tenor parts during some of the Mass’s twelve-part passages. The influence of these slow-moving notes can be heard throughout the work, and indeed a casual listener, confused by the teeming detail of the rhythmic patterns, may only hear some rather ordinary harmonies. Closer listening will reveal why Brumel chose to write in so many parts: he needed them to decorate these colossal harmonic pillars, and in doing so he effectively abandoned polyphony in the sense of independent yet interrelated melodic lines and resorted to sequences and figurations which were atypical of his time. The effect can even be akin to that of Islamic art: static, non-representational, tirelessly inventive in its use of abstract designs, which are intensified by their repetitive application. This style of writing is so effective that anyone who might be reminded of Tallis’s Spem in alium would be unable to conceive of the need for another twenty-eight parts.
The manuscript source for Brumel’s ‘Earthquake’ Mass was copied for a performance in about 1570 at the Bavarian court. The names of the thirty-three court singers are given against the nine lower parts (the boys are not named), among whom Lassus sang Tenor II. Unfortunately, the last folios, which contain the Agnus Dei, have rotted, leaving holes in the voice-parts. Since this is not performable as it stands, we decided to replace it with the third Agnus from Nicolas Gombert's Missa Tempore Paschalis, which is based on the same chant notes as the Brumel, and uses exactly the same twelve voice-parts. Given the eccentricity of the scoring, it seems very likely that Gombert wrote this movement deliberately, in homage to one of his greatest predecessors in the Flemish school.
—Peter Phillips, 2022
Born in Los Angeles, CA, January 8, 1957
sun-centered: words and music by David Lang, after Galileo, Francis Bacon, Plato and Psalm 19:6 (2022)
A simple question reimagines the universe. The person who asks it is imprisoned, just for asking it. This particular person is Galileo, but it could be any number of others, whose pursuit of knowledge leads them beyond the boundaries of their time and place.
I wrote my piece sun-centered at the request of Peter Phillips. Peter asked me specifically to write a piece that could coexist on a program with Antoine Brumel’s monumental Missa Et ecce terræ motus—a mass for 12 voices that gets its name from being based on a scrap of chant whose text means "and the earth moved." This scrap of text immediately reminded me of Galileo’s trial for the blasphemy of proving the earth revolves around the sun, which seemed to contradict the Bible. After his conviction he is supposed to have muttered under his breath "E pur si muove"—"and yet it moves." Most likely, Galileo never actually said this! But the connection between the two texts got me thinking, about the movement of the earth, about the pricelessness of human knowledge, and about the perils of rejecting it.
Why is it that we are so resistant to new ideas that challenge the ones we already know? On one level this is a philosophical question, and two of the texts I set in sun-centered come from my rewriting of basic philosophy texts by Plato and by Francis Bacon. But of course, it is also a political question—we base our society on ideas and values we think we share with each other. If we aren’t able to grow together, in what we know and what we believe, it becomes impossible for us to build anything new. Or perhaps even to build anything together, at all.
sun-centered is dedicated to the memory of [Dutch composer] Louis Andriessen, with whom I spent many hours and many years discussing philosophy and politics, and everything else.
—David Lang, 2022
About the Artists
The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 by their director, Peter Phillips. Through their recordings and concert performances, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music throughout the world. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create, through good tuning and blend, the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serves the Renaissance repertoire, allowing every detail of the musical lines to be heard. It is the resulting beauty of sound for which The Tallis Scholars have become so widely renowned.
The Tallis Scholars perform in both sacred and secular venues, giving around 80 concerts each year. In 2013 the group celebrated their 40th anniversary with a World Tour, performing 99 events in 80 venues in 16 countries. They now look ahead to their 50th anniversary in 2023. In 2020 Gimell Records celebrated 40 years of recording the group by releasing a remastered version of the 1980 recording of Allegri’s "Miserere." As of the beginning of the cancellations caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the Tallis Scholars had made 2,327 appearances, worldwide.
2021/22 season highlights include performances in Amsterdam, Vienna, Dortmund, Bremen, two tours of Italy, a number of appearances in London as well as their usual touring schedule around the USA, Europe, and the UK. As part of Josquin des Prez’ postponed 500th anniversary celebrations The Tallis Scholars sing all eighteen of the composer’s masses over the course of four days at the Boulez Saal in Berlin in July 2022.
Recordings by The Tallis Scholars have attracted many awards throughout the world. In 1987 their recording of Josquin's Missa La sol fa re mi and Missa Pange lingua received Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award, the first recording of early music ever to win this coveted award. In 1989 the French magazine Diapason gave two of its Diapason d'Or de l'Année awards for the recordings of a mass and motets by Lassus and for Josquin's two masses based on the chanson L'Homme armé. Their recording of Palestrina's Missa Assumpta est Maria and Missa Sicut lilium was awarded Gramophone's Early Music Award in 1991; they received the 1994 Early Music Award for their recording of music by Cipriano de Rore; and the same distinction again in 2005 for their disc of music by John Browne. The Tallis Scholars were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001, 2009, and 2010. In November 2012 their recording of Josquin's Missa De beata virgine and Missa Ave maris stella received a Diapason d’Or de l’Année and in their 40th anniversary year they were welcomed into the Gramophone "Hall of Fame" by public vote. In a departure for the group in Spring 2015 The Tallis Scholars released a disc of music by Arvo Pärt called Tintinnabuli which received great praise across the board. The latest recording of Josquin masses including Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie was released in November 2020 and was winner of the BBC Music Magazine’s much coveted Recording of the Year Award in 2021. This disc was the last of nine albums in The Tallis Scholars' project to record and release all Josquin's masses before the 500th anniversary of the composer’s death in 2021.
Peter Phillips has dedicated his career to the research and performance of Renaissance polyphony, and to the perfecting of choral sound. He founded The Tallis Scholars in 1973, with whom he has now appeared in over 2,300 concerts and made over 60 discs, world-wide. As a result of this commitment Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have done more than any other group to establish the sacred vocal music of the Renaissance as one of the great repertoires of Western classical music.
Peter Phillips also conducts other specialist ensembles. He is currently working with the BBC Singers, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Intrada (Moscow) and El Leon de Oro (Spain). He is Patron of the Chapel Choir of Merton College Oxford.
In addition to conducting, Peter Phillips is well-known as a writer. For 33 years he contributed a regular music column to The Spectator. In 1995 he became the publisher of The Musical Times, the oldest continuously published music journal in the world. His first book, English Sacred Music 1549-1649, was published by Gimell in 1991, while his second, What We Really Do, appeared in 2013. During 2018, BBC Radio 3 broadcast his view of Renaissance polyphony, in a series of six hour-long programmes, entitled The Glory of Polyphony.
In 2005 Peter Phillips was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. In 2008 Peter helped to found the chapel choir of Merton College Oxford, where he is a Bodley Fellow; and in 2021 he was elected an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford.
David Lang is one of the most highly esteemed and performed American composers writing today. His works have been performed around the world in most of the great concert halls.
Lang’s simple song #3, written as part of his score for Paolo Sorrentino’s acclaimed film YOUTH, received many awards nominations in 2016, including the Academy Award and Golden Globe.
His opera prisoner of the state (with libretto by Lang) was co-commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Rotterdam’s de Doelen Concert Hall, London’s Barbican Centre, Barcelona’s l’Auditori, Bochum Symphony Orchestra, and Bruges’s Concertgebouw, and premiered June 2019 in New York, conducted by Jaap van Zweden. prisoner of the state received its U.K. premiere in January 2020 with the BBC Symphony, European premieres are rescheduled for 2022-2023.
New works for 2021-2022 include sun-centered for the Tallis Scholars—to be interwoven with Antoine Brumel’s monumental Renaissance mass for 12 voices Missa Et ecce terræ motus (“and the Earth moved”); a new evening-length work for Pam Tanowitz Dance, created as part of the dance work Song of Songs; and an evening-length work for the chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird, composition as explanation.
Lang is a Professor of Music Composition at the Yale School of Music and is Artist in Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York’s legendary music collective Bang on a Can.
His music is published by Red Poppy Music and G. Ricordi & Co., New York (ASCAP) and is is distributed worldwide by the Universal Music Publishing Group.
Sundays with the St. Lawrence
Sun, May 8 at 2:30 PM | Bing Concert Hall
Wed, May 11 at 7:30 PM | Bing Concert Hall